I are an elitist.

Someone in comments a while back — I think it was Jolene — made an observation about charges of “elitism” against Barry O. To paraphrase: Why do we encourage our children to excel in school, work hard, achieve, get good grades, get into the best colleges, think independently, read widely, etc., if at the end of all this they’ll stand before us and we’ll call them elitists?

Good question.

I thought of it again when I read, via Romenesko, a heart-clutching memo from Lee Abrams, a former radio guy who’s now something like “chief innovation officer” for the painfully evolving Tribune Co. He’s supposed to be the fresh-eyed outsider charged with re-imagining newspapers in the new era. A few of his thoughts:

ASSUMPTIONS: Possibly the biggest problem. Assuming. I met a reporter who spent 4 years in Baghdad. Dodging bullets…staying in Hotels protected by the Marines. Yet, I’ll bet NO-one outside of the building knew this person was risking their life in Iraq to get YOU the news. If it were CNN, you’d see rockets and RPG’s in the background as the reporter ducks shrapnel. In the paper, it’s usually a small byline.

Hell, papers should have photos of the reporter with Iraqi kids…be writing diaries. Before I joined Tribune, I had NO idea that reporters were around the globe reporting the news…Because the paper “assumed” I knew.

THE NPR FEEL? Newspapers strike me as being a little TOO NPR. I like NPR, and their shows like Morning Edition do well. But NPR can also be a bit elitist. Morning News Radio has a lot of similarities to papers: Similar target audience; Old Media; Time restraints. It’s probably a good thing to study the feel of a well honed All News Radio station. Yeah, a different medium, but I sometimes get a slower more intellectual NPR feel from papers than a usually quicker paced and more mainstream News Radio delivery. It’s all about being INTELLIGENT…not intellectual. We are in the mainstream business. The 2008 Mainstream business. SMART…but not elite….and we DO get a little NPR at times. (And I DO like NPR…)

I can’t go back to newspapers. I just can’t.

At least he didn’t suggest we all write STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS with random caps; Like This; …like our READERS DO. They’ll understand, because more of them are like Lee ABRAMS, a man who made a fortune in radio but DIDN’T KNOW that reporters actually GO PLACES LIKE IRAQ to cover Iraq. The paper just Assumed he knew that when a Story has a Dateline that says BAGHDAD, that means IT WAS WRITTEN THERE.

OK, I’ll stop.

But this is, simply, bullshit. I love the part about crafting the paper more in the model of all-news radio than NPR. Of course, I am an elitist — THERE, Lee Abrams, I SAID IT — but I’ve been listening to NPR so long now that I simply cannot abide any other sort of news radio. It’s imperfect, granted, but on most days it’s an oasis, and if it were to disappear tomorrow I’d just throw all my radios away. YES, Lee, I WOULD. Of course, I happen to hate all-news radio with a passion. Hate. The weather on the sevens, traffic on the nines, sports brought to you by your friends at GutterHoods.com, the constant yapping commercials, all of it. Some of us are trying to understand the world’s events, not cram a few phrases between ellipses and call it news.

Someone told me the other day that the anchor of one of Detroit’s morning drive all-news/talk stations makes $1 million a year. I think it was Paul W. Smith. He writes a column for the News. Here’s a selection from one of his most recent:

I can only imagine (but I never hope to find out) the roller coaster of emotions that affected Metro Detroiters have been experiencing since storms knocked out the electricity last week. Some people were without power for up to a week, and I don’t blame them for being angry and wondering why it took so long to fix it. Too many cuts? Where do power officials put the extra thousand workers or so when everything is O.K. — when we take for granted that the lights will come on when we throw the switch? We sure shouldn’t be angry at those men and women who have been climbing those poles, clearing those limbs and holding on for dear life as the next storm rumbled through.

He goes on to note that melons are a luxury item in Japan, condenses a press release about a zoo fundraiser and concludes with this bit of Abrams-approved self-promotion, not a photo with Iraqi kids but good enough:

Thank you, Marketing & Sales Executives of Detroit for presenting me with your 2008 Executive Leadership Award this coming Wednesday.

There’s a newspaper column written — or phoned in — in the precise style of all-news radio: A rhetorical question, an opinion no one would find objectionable, an oddity from a funny foreign land and finishing with an air-kiss to the buttocks. INTELLIGENT, not intellectual, as Abrams might say.

I’m assuming Abrams is not being paid in hugs and kisses. And yet he is unembarrassed to write, Before I joined Tribune, I had NO idea that reporters were around the globe reporting the news. Why is it OK to call a smart person with smart-person attitudes and taste an elitist, but not to call Abrams, well, ignorant?

Just wonderin’.

EDIT: You toss off something in 15 minutes between chores, and the next minute you’re on Romenesko. Our comments policy: First-timers go to moderation before appearing. I will try to keep up, but I have to go out in a bit and there may be a delay.

Posted at 3:01 pm in Media |
 

50 responses to “I are an elitist.”

  1. Kevin Knuth said on June 18, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Nancy,

    You may be an elitist, but we still love you.

    😉

  2. Kevin Knuth said on June 18, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Ironically, that google ads that appeared when I posted my first comment were for NPR!!

    gotta love that!

  3. Jeff said on June 18, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Your afternoon comment, brought to you by Garden-Weezle — When it comes to elitism, is that really so bad? More on that in the six o’ clock hour, but first: HAVE YOU SEEN THE RADAR? Barry, whaddaya got up there? [muffled metallic voices echo and boom over] I-71, to the interch [the rotor sound and occasional squ] ending around midnight [ealing and click] THANKS for that update, and this evening, “Elitists: Do they live longer?” That goes without saying, even if they have to spend time on their landscaping on their hands and knees — [music cue] Garden-Weezle is the name, in the sunshine, or the rain, keeps you from that ol’ back pain, Garden-Weezle, Garden-WEEZLE! [fanfare, exit cue] We’ve pretty much gone through the question of elitism and said all that can be said, but REALLY FOLKS, I MEAN, C’MON, you know what i’m saying? So, Jabberlips, HOW ABOUT THOSE CELTICS, HUH?

  4. paddyo' said on June 18, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    All-news radio? All-NEWS? Yikes. Where I live (Denver), that disappeared years ago. The so-called all-news station still calls itself that, but it’s merely a rip-‘n’-read rundown at the top of the hour and then nothing but conservative and/or libertarian yap-yap-yap the rest of the hour, plus those traffic-and-weather-on-the-8’s upd-8’s. Ironically, one of the NPR affiliates here, using some largesse from unnamed deep-pockets contributors, has beefed up its own local news reporting (which until a couple of years ago was also rip-‘n’-read) with some original daily spot stories on occasion. Ain’t much, but it’s a start.
    Then again, isn’t radio also now supposed to be a terribly old-fogey-fuddy-duddy medium, and I’m just showing my graybearded age? Off you go, old man, to the graveyard for irrelevant media . . .

  5. alex said on June 18, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Why is it OK to call a smart person with smart-person attitudes and taste an elitist, but not to call Abrams, well, ignorant?

    It’s quite all right with me if you call him ignorant. What’s so great about democracy is that ignorant people get to talk, ignorant people get to vote and best of all ignorant people even get paid big bucks to play consultant to desperate businesses they know absolutely nothing about.

    It’s high time for a pendulum swing, however. The common man’s shit has become just a little bit too common. We need a return to governance by the smart for a while.

  6. Dan said on June 18, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    The Tribune Company is dead. I grew up reading the Chicago Tribune (and Sun-Times, which has its own problems, though self-humiliation like this isn’t one of them), so this is particularly sad for me.

    I’m trying to imagine what Mike Royko would have to say about this buffoon.

  7. Jason T. said on June 18, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Testify! If I had a lighter, I’d be holding it up right now, Nance.

    I seldom check Romenesko any more, but I saw the same story and thought: Yes, the real problem with newspapers is that they haven’t been dumbed down enough.

    Egad.

  8. Donnieb78 said on June 18, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Followed the link from Poynter…Great stuff and thanks for expressing your Abrams outrage better than I could have.
    Great for our democracy that we have highly paid suits who didn’t know that reporters are risking their lives in Iraq.
    I kept reading his memo for clues that it was a parody of a clueless “New Media” exec, but apparently not.

  9. LAMary said on June 18, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    KCFR Paddy-o? We used to call it can’t see that far. I toiled in the music library there in college. There was no ATC or Morning Edition then.
    NPR does spoil you for any other news. Some of the reporters are just great. Some so so. Mee Shell Norris gets on my nerves. John Burnett is terrific.

  10. Michael said on June 18, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Now hold on one cotton pickin’ minute. Before you guys get me all pig biting mad (been wanting to use that phrase all week for some reason), let’s give all news radio it’s due.

    I, for instance, am a genuine all news radio listener. Especially during morning drive time. This is infrequent because I rarely drive in the am, but when I do, and I don’t want to think hard enough to listen to NPR or BBC, I find the movie review-ettes, restaurant plugs inextricably connected to the advertising department, and those meaningful 3 question interviews with “real” newsmakers, to be sufficient background noise to drown out my 12 year old engine.

    Besides those pest control guys need to spend their
    advertising dollars somewhere.

    ’nuff said.

  11. Jim Sunshine said on June 18, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Lee Abrams sounds like the sort of fool brought in by corporate to preside over and be blamed for the final death agony of newspapers. The current generation of Wall Street operators now in control hasn’t a clue about what they have done to newspapers and where to go from here. Therefore, why not bring in Abrams the “innovator?” Every one of his recommendations has been tried over the last four decades and every one has failed for the simple reason that newspapers are information not entertainment. If the definition of insanity is really doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, he is just the ticket.

  12. coozledad said on June 18, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    Before the consolidation of a lot of small family-run newspapers, I always thought of my local paper as a sort of spreadsheet that indicated the relative power of individuals in the money set, and if consulted religiously, an oracle that would reveal who had gotten themselves a face full of ass, and who had theirs kissed. I watched the owners of the paper cut jobs and hand the job of editor/ features writer off in turn to:
    1. A dim fratboy, whose true calling may have been picking apples, but not writing about it.
    2.A humorless, notably gawky young woman who’d just gotten out of Bob Jones or a similar place. She could be seen staggering around town in white leotards and a knee length dress in all seasons, stopping occasionally to blow her nose in her hand or stare at a door for several minutes before deciding to go in. I wish I could remember her name, because the vaguest recollection of some of her work can make me laugh uncontrollably. I hope she is OK. She was replaced by
    3. A woman who would probably now be referred to as a ‘cougar’, who loved everything on the damned television and took excruciating pains to let you know about it. She moved, I think, to one of the larger nearby cities, probably Cary, or a similar featureless suburb. And finally
    4. A guy that had been let go from another family paper undergoing media consolidation. He was competent, and obviously loved his job, but his work lacked the entertainment value of #2. He was in poor health, and a little deferential to the local power structure, but entirely worthy of respect.
    Which brings me to my point. Why was Paul Harvey syndicated in this paper? Was it to convince people that the loss of one of the last remaining vibrant downtowns in the area was worth it just to have a Wal-Mart? Was it a slow pitch for the readers who could hear the same essay on the radio and mouth the words along with the text?
    I really have forgotten my point, except that the last time I saw this paper it was loaded with astroturf for the current administration. A kind of Volkische Beobachter for the Golden Corral crowd. Thoroughly depressing.
    Oh well. I’ve got to go attend the Mid-Atlantic regional conference of attention-whores.

  13. colleen said on June 18, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    I am so sick of the anti-intellectual bent of so many in the US. (AKA: we don’t cotton much to fancy book learnin’) How can EITHER Obama be “elitist”? Michelle is from the south side of Chicago, for cryin’ out loud. They are where they are because they got some of that fancy book learnin’ and wanted to achieve in their lives. Why is that wrong? Isn’t that The American Dream?

    As for NPR being elitist…I don’t see it. I see why others do, but I don’t. (the Met Opera, yeah, but not the news operation) It’s thoughtful. It takes time to explore stories. It doesn’t yell at you and doesn’t tell you that other people who aren’t like you are stupid/immoral/unamerican.

    But again…why is it bad? I want to learn, I want to be smarter tomorrow than I am today, I want to discover new things.

    Is thinking bad?

  14. Jeff said on June 18, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    “Volkische Beobachter for the Golden Corral crowd”

    Phrases like this are why i have to read this site every day.

    (But can i steal that line? No, because a) stealing is one of them commandment thingys, b) plagiarism would lose me my right to post here, and c) where else could i use it?)

  15. Kevin said on June 18, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    As an XM subscriber, I can attest that Lee Abrams’ genius lies in radio programming, not in the newspaper business.

  16. nancy said on June 18, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Coozledad uses elitist humor! Volkische Beobachter, explained.

  17. Denise said on June 18, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    OMG. . .I have a new bookmark (came over from Romenesko). I defend Abrams occasionally — I don’t work for a Trib paper — but your commentary was spot on. Thanks for the smile and the brain tickle. 🙂

  18. KeysCuda said on June 18, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    My first thought when the Zell the Troll starting bringing this people in was: Radio people. CLEAR CHANNEL radio people, no less. Good lord. Because the commercial radio business is doing so damn well, I guess.
    (I work in news, not for a Tribune company).
    No, we can’t be too intellectual, or elitist, less we lose fans like Abrams, who is so informed about the business he is charged with “innovating” that he’s surprised to learn that war correspondents are actually AT the war, and occasionally must dodge explosions. Good lord. He’s been listening to Fox for way too long.

    My favorite of his thoughts, which seem to fall to earth like bird droppings, came from an earlier missive. He wants to see photos of places where crimes were committed, so you can say, “Oh, yeah. That corner.” (not a quote).
    Now that’s a fine idea: Take up expensive newsprint and space in the rapidly shrinking newshole to show: A street corner where NOTHING is happening, but maybe did a few hours ago.
    Good lord. Save us all.

  19. Kirk said on June 18, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    As a semi-elitist who once read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” I got the joke. And a good one it was.

  20. bill said on June 18, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    “Some of us are trying to understand the world’s events”

    And what Abrams is saying is do a better job of explaining them to the masses — much of which is not intellectual.

    Do this, and circulation can improve. Fail to do this, and it can only continue declining.

    Want to keep being a watchdog/fourth-estate/relevant journalist? Then embrace Alternative Story Format (which Poynter has proven is better retained and understood by readers), sharp design, witty/accurate headlines and careful editing.

    This outsider reflects the people newspapers need to reach. Don’t be closed-minded. Stop arguing, mentally tone down the rhetoric, start thinking about the points he’s trying to make and find a way to implement it.

    After all, what good is it to be smart and right if too few people are reading?!?

  21. nancy said on June 18, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Someone calling him or herself “Lee Abrams” sent me this in an e-mail, and it’s too funny not to reproduce here. (OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: I DON’T THINK THIS IS FROM THE REAL LEE ABRAMS.)

    Lee’s Blog
    June 18, 2008
    THINK PIECE: THE REVOL-YOU-TION IS GOING SRONG

    Just came back from Hartford and a visit with the Courant. I was expecting some progress, but I was BLOWN away by what they had created. No “tweaks” here: they’ve stripped all the vowels out of stories. Saves lots of space. Before I joined Tribune, I had NO IDEA that there were different kinds of letters!! Bosnia and Serbia just have consonants, and they are WAY over the top cool, with ethnic cleaning and stuff … This is some serious re-invention in full motion that symbolizes an altitude we need in all our nespapers, TV stations, web sites and reel estate holdings. They know how to market a STAR, like Katie Courant – name the paper after ’em. Hits the READER like a 2×4.

    * GREEN. Before I joined Tribune, I had NO idea that newspapers were made out of TREES … And the paper never told me because it “assumed” I knew. Hell, papers should have photos of lumberjacks cutting down big oaks, standing next to smiling squirrels and owls …Put it above the stories on the front: “This paper is brought to you by the White Oak — Illinois’ State Tree”. People DON’T know that you have REAL trees exclusively being turned into pulp, because we ASSUME they do.

    * INTELIGENT, NOT ELITE. Newspapers strike me as being a little TOO NPR. I like NPR and listen to “A Prairie Home Companion” all the time and once did a circle jerk with Garrison Keilor. But who wants to be like a radio network that listeners enjoy so much that they just GIVE THEM MONEY every year??? Morning News Radio has a lot of similarities to papers: Similar target audience: people pissed off, stuck in their cars waiting for the next trafic update to be broadcast, talking on their PHONES until the news is over. It’s probably a good thing to study the feel of a well honed All News Radio station. Too bad there ain’t one .…. I like the New York Post too, but it also can be a bit elitist, calling the police commissioner the “commish” and all, and printing nice titty pictures. It’s all about being smart … not intelectual. WE have that oportunity.

    * REMEDIAL READING ROCKS. We are rife with assumptions.. That people will find great stories … that people like reading … that people know how to read. Hell, before I joined Tribune, I read at a SECOND-grade level. “Curious George” and “Green Eegs and Ham” were too hard. Don’t ASSUME your readers can read … or WANT TO. No one wants to listen to All News Radio, but they have to if they want to know if it’s an overturned bus or a car fire that’s got them stuck on the 405 for an hour. There are 25 million functionally illiterate Americans, and I’ll BET most of them don’t even read a newspaper! We can OWN that market if we set our mind to it.

    * LEANER STAFF. The Courant has figured out how to keep putting out 300 pages per reporter while laying most of them off. They have a win-win: BIGGER FONT. They use a 24 pt Alburtus Extra Bold! Hits ’em like a 2 x 4, especially the old geezers whoz eyes are going…. They understand that a death spiral is bad only if we ASSUME it is. Rock n Roll knows that. No one would still be listening to the Doors if Jim Morrison hadn’t snorted too much coke and died in a French bathtub. WE can be the Jimi Hendrix of media, DROWNED in our own puke, and DELIVER it in 21st century terms right onto our readers’ shoes.

  22. LAMary said on June 18, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    My grandfather’s cousin was a journalist turned politician in Germany, and he was mentioned in the Volkische Beobachter.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Breitscheid

  23. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 18, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    LAMary — of course he was! You are without peer, madame. And a cool link, too.

  24. Linda said on June 18, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Being anti-elitist apparently means believing that most of the people on earth are morons. Newspapers are not the only institutions to fall prey to this. I have spent most of my adult life working in public libraries, and many are trying to be more “anti-elite” too–buying more middlebrow fiction, throwing out old classics that don’t circulate as often, and aiming to purchase items that will bring in the biggest circulation figures so that we can give good levy statistics. Some library systems are consciously trying to aim their book purchases exclusively at the high school level or lower. In the day, we aimed for much popular stuff, but also information that allowed people to educate themselves, if they so desired. So, not only are information sources dumbing down, but information and cultural archivists, too.

  25. coozledad said on June 18, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Jeff: Feel free to use it. Just keep in mind that I’m not certain I didn’t unconsciously lift it myself. Sometimes I get it through my fillings.
    I think it was Francis Cornford who said something along the lines of “We are none of us standing apart from the circumambient atmosphere of our time.” after he’d nearly drowned himself in a case of sherry.

  26. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 18, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    Re: Herr Breitscheid — according to the wiki entry, “the day he died it was a birthday, and i noticed it was mine, and my head didn’t know just who i was, and i went spinning back in time . . .”

    A round for whoever can name that tune without googling, and we’ll drink to Rudolph.

  27. beb said on June 18, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    Elitism is the new word replacing”liberal” as the conservative’s swear word. Evil people are elites. Democrats are evil therefore they are elites. Blacks who aren’t living in the ghetto are elites. Anyone railing about “elites” is probably pushing a conservative agenda.

    As Jon Stewart says about elitesin the White House, “I WANT someone smarter than me in the White House.”

  28. Joe K said on June 19, 2008 at 12:43 am

    Want to make a radio station owner sweat?
    Just mention x.m. or pandora internet radio.
    They turn pale.
    Loving my X.M. channel12.
    Joe K

  29. Hattie said on June 19, 2008 at 1:58 am

    Yes, but melons ARE a luxury item in Japan,so what’s your complaint?

  30. whitebeard said on June 19, 2008 at 4:35 am

    Nancy,I thought that the “Lee Adams” parody was priceless because of my connection to Hartford, but then I thought the original Lee Adams memo posted by Romenesko on Poynter was also a parody “Before I joined Tribune, I had NO idea that reporters were around the globe reporting the news.”
    That kind of mindset would believe that hens laid three different kinds of eggs, boiled, scrambled and fried but you never knew which until you cracked the shell open.
    When I worked in Montreal, I never knew my newspaper had a Paris bureau until the office was closed (probably a major reason for closing the office).
    When I worked in The Soo, we had an editor who laid out advance pages and he laid out one page with a story about the upcoming launch of the Canadian satellite Alouette 1 (French for lark or skylark), another story on one page about the actual launch (Sept. 29, 1962) and then a third story about some minor glitch. Unfortunately, all three advance pages ran the same day. Abrams probably would have praised that as successful packaging.

  31. Terry WAlter said on June 19, 2008 at 4:56 am

    Cud any1 splain sumthin too a numnah like me? Howzit that are prezident gets called Dumbya? Hain’t he a gradiate of that poison ivy school Yale? I thot yah hadta be damn near geenyus to get inta them kinda places. Hell, B-Rock was purtnear 40 fore he got done payin fer his Harvard larnin. Seems ta me ifn ya make it thru one of them places, NOBODY should be a callin ya stoopid. BTW, cud yall tell me how ta get rid a those dam red lines unner my words?

  32. Big Tuna said on June 19, 2008 at 8:06 am

    Of course you love NPR….it’s subsidised by the federal government! It doesn’t have to make money. It’s whole business model is based on socialism so

    As soon as newspapers are “not for profit”, or subsidised, then you can have them feel like NPR all you want to.

    Until then, since newspapers are a BUSINESS, not a HOBBY. newspapers do need to feel more like news-talk radio….and by that I mean PROFITABLE

  33. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 19, 2008 at 8:35 am

    Tuna — if you think this is a happy hive of socialist drones, you need to click back through the archive a bit.

    NPR represents one kind of business model, one which can’t be replicated too generally. But between a modest amount of public support for CPB and a pure, BatBoy, BritneyParisJessica, sales at the register tabs, is a vast expanse of possibilities.

    Some prophets raise their staff and say “follow me this way to the Promised Land,” and they point towards distant peaks marked by billboards the whole way, while a fellow who looks like Tom Brokaw is asking “what happened to my flock” and another guy, six feet plus is just jumping up and down shouting, “Mr. President, shut the frak up!”

    Weekly World News turns out not to be the sales and money-making bonanza it once was, and all the congregation says — Amen! — and it was technically as able to be market responsive as anyone. So bidness versus pointy-haided libruls isn’t exactly what happened there.

    It’s just that along with figuring out what it means to work in this wacky field of providing written content to readers while still getting paid something for our work, when people are still willing to pay for something (but how? and where? using paypal?), we’re willing to be skeptical about the consultants and new managerial staff who come down from on high expecting to be treated like Moses when they say “Content is king!” (Nervous yet eager and still imperious glances back and forth across first newsroom meeting, staccato laugh after silence reigns).

    Then they say “look, 4th grade reading level isn’t so bad, lots of good writing done with shorter words. Oh, and reader generated content — how great is that! Writing you don’t have to pay for! (Cackle chokes off when he realizes the people he’s speaking to get paid to write, and may not find that so amusing, and do not.)

    Newspapers in particular (but radio, too) have been raped by profit-taking marauders who rode 40% margins down to 15% and heading to 5% and never re-invested in the product, the physical plant, or the staffing other than to build a new printing plant they could rent out during the day to mass mailers and a new vending machine for the break room after the old one seized up. And they blame everything from the vend-o-mat breaking to the loss of readers on the employees.

    I don’t think the people running newspapers know what they’re talking about, because they haven’t for thirty years and they’re still saying the same crud. Yes, the business changed, and we’ve been changing and adapting on the writing side (find a 1967 paper front page, feature front, and op-ed, and pull this week’s analogue, and compare). The managers have changed nothing but their underwear, and i’m not confident of that.

    So take your socialist crack, Big Tuna, and stuff it in your glove compartment (by the way, no one wears gloves to drive anymore, but i guess socialism makes us still call it that), and ask why NPR is building listenership while ClearChannel is pancaking in the face of satellite radio.

  34. Colleen said on June 19, 2008 at 8:45 am

    As a public radio employee (local station, NOT the network), I need to address the “subzidized by the federal government” remark.

    Yes. We DO get money from the feds. In the case of our station’s budget, it’s somewhere in the area of 15-20% of a 1.2 million dollar budget. The rest comes from listeners, underwriters and grants.

    As for how much comes from each taxpayer…I’ve heard numbers ranging from a quarter to 50 cents per taxpayer.

    So I’m always tempted to try to end the “government subsidized” argument with “if I give you a dollar, will you consider that a refund and go away?”

  35. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on June 19, 2008 at 9:31 am

    For many outlets, it’s more like 12%. At this point, they could go private if they needed to, but the real point is that the wisdom of the market is not all seeing and all knowing. I’m happy to support CPB and their NPR & PBS stations, but the question is whether it really is the market telling newspapers and tv stations to go all agitation all the time, or profit-maximizers — and as a good solid free market Republican, profit-whoring along isn’t the ideal expression of the marketplace. Solidity and continuity and sustainability are conservative values, too, and sucking the value out of a business and walking away at the first market shock or cultural shift saying “the market did it” is a lie. The voice of the free market is not profit alone, not maximum profit, and not the fig leaf of “breach of fiduciary responsibility,” which is the most pernicious myth (if i were Olbermann i’d say “lie” again) that the business community has sold this side of arms industry expansion being good for the economy.

    Short term gain is just that — short term thinking. Conservatives are supposed to be about the long haul, looking back and down the road.

  36. coozledad said on June 19, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Colleen: What you fail to recognize is the type of world Big Tuna is arguing for. It’s a Hobbesian paradise of old surfers begging on the street for toll fare, defended (or not) by privately funded armies, rousted from sleeping on grates by privately contracted police forces, and their frozen bodies carted off at dawn by privately held waste collection corporations to rot or be reclaimed as BigTuna burgers. What BigTuna fails to recognize, is that these corporations will ultimately demand taxpayer subsidies (as Halliburton and Blackwater are at this very moment) but they will be collected at bayonet point, and without representation.
    Essentially the ideal society they are trying to promote is Shanghai circa 1936.

  37. Randy said on June 19, 2008 at 9:55 am

    We have one of those plain-speakin’ guys on our all-news station. He delivers a daily commentary, and last week he mused on the apology given to Aboriginal peoples by the Canadian government. Specifically, an apology for putting several generations of children into church-run residential schools, which spawned a seemingly eternal legacy of dysfunction.

    No surprise, he considered the apology unnecessary. In fact, the schools saved a lot of people from far worse fates. Sure, there was abuse, and countless families were ripped apart, and there was an active effort to eliminate aboriginal culture, but they did learn their three Rs, so it evens out in the end…

    Oh my, it was ignorant. And he does it every day. And he’s the news director.

  38. Big Tuna said on June 19, 2008 at 11:44 am

    All I did was accurately use the term socialist business model and everyone flew off the handle….bringing in tangents like Halliburton, Weekly World News, and Aboriginal commentary.

    Bottom line…the NPR vs. Newspaper analogy is poor because their business expectations are different. The current newspaper model is DEAD! Zell, Michaels and Abrams seem to be the only print operators trying to innovate and I give them credit for trying.

    Right or wrong, under the current for-profit model, newspapers need to make a product that generates more money than it costs to produce. NPR is not doing that. PBS is not doing that. To encourage newspapers to be more like them will not logically lead to a more sound financial base.

  39. brian stouder said on June 19, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Oddly enough, this conversation now somewhat echoes the public financing/private financing shamozzle currently unfolding between McCain and Obama –

    wherein the Republican candidate is claiming greater moral purity, thanks to his commitment to placing his campaign onto the public dole; as opposed to the Democratic candidate who is eschewing public financing, in favor of collecting money from people like me. (And otherwise, he would be compelled to turn away our contributions!)

    I’ll give McCain this much credit – he has ALWAYS had this wrongheaded idea about socialized campaign financing, and heavy restrictions on free speech and association in the political process

  40. nancy said on June 19, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Abrams wasn’t analogizing newspapers and NPR as a business. He was saying newspapers need to be dumber (unlike elitist NPR). I worked for 26 years in newspapers, 1979 to 2005, and we went through a great dumbification. We were told over and over and over to cut, tighten and assume our readers didn’t care about anything that didn’t apply directly to their lives. The “100-year-old cobbler” story — code for an interesting feature — was scorned as “lacking utility” for the busy, time-starved reader.

    My husband, a feature editor, once labored mightily with a young reporter to craft and polish a lovely little story about these aging Filipino war brides in Fort Wayne, who came to the U.S. as young women, and one by one found each other and formed a social group. Once a week they’d get together for mah jongg and home cookin’. The story was about how the group sticks together, now that the members are aging and dying. It was really a wonderful portrait of a part of the community most people had no idea existed. You know what the editor in chief said? It needed a useful takeaway. He suggested a sidebar on how to play mah jongg.

    I’ve beaten this drum so often I’ve worn out the skin, but I’ll say it once more: What’s killing papers isn’t that they’re too smart, “elitist” or otherwise brainy. Their business model has been upended by technology and instead of thinking wisely about how to recover or adapt to the new world, they employ people like Abrams, who suggest we run pictures of reporters with Iraqi kids. I appreciate that he’s making the effort, but excuse me for thinking it’s not the answer.

  41. Big Tuna said on June 19, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    My contention was never with Abrams, but the author of this article.

    NPR does not have a profitable product, why should newspapers expect to become more profitable by being more like NPR.

  42. nancy said on June 19, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    NPR may not be profitable, but its b-model is not-for-profit. I’ve yet to visit an NPR station that wasn’t pretty well-equipped, because they’re not giving all the profits to the owner’s wife’s plastic surgeon. They also have a pretty good record of slavish listener loyalty. And my point isn’t that newspapers need to be more like NPR (although that would be fine — perhaps we could start with the assumption that our readers aren’t clueless morons who need us to tell them how to raise children), but that they don’t need to be more like all-news radio. We have dumbed ourselves down considerably already, and all that’s happened is a steadily increasing circulation slide.

  43. ZamSell said on June 19, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Sam Zell is a pathetic, small-minded fool who got lucky finding loopholes in the real estate business to make a lot of money. He bent a lot of rules. He bilked a lot of little people. His shady business dealings may have worked in the real estate arena, but as soon as he tried to make money in a business that is highly transparent and scrutinized, his flaws as a businessman and as a human being became clear. He is a bully — a small-minded shopkeeper who swindled so much cash he began to believe his own lies about being a business genius. He surrounded himself with a bunch of adoring, well-paid acolytes who consistently affirmed to him his genius in exchange for fat salaries. People like Abrams aren’t smart or have any particular business savvy. (Come on. Who WASN’T making money in radio and real estate during the late 1990s and early 2000s?) They just know how to pucker up to the boss and flatter his crude sensibilities and assauge his insecurities.

  44. Big Tuna said on June 19, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    My whole argument was based on the business, not whether talk radio is a better product than newspapaer or NPR.

    Satellite radio is a great product, I love it. But it’s a product that has never turned a profit, lost BILLIONS of dollars and will likely go bankrupt if they don’t get approval of their merger. The resources it takes to make this great product will always exceed the revenue it produces.

    NPR is a great product. But if it did not get federal funding and it was required to turn a profit, it would be bankrupt.

    Newspapers could be a very smart, wonderful product. But the resources it would take to make that product would be far more than the revenue generated.

    Ironically, it turns out that all of these years most newspapers were also subsidised……by classified ads. Once those dollars went away, the reporting and journalism couldn’t stand on it’s own from a business standpoint.

  45. Donnieb78 said on June 19, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Jeff (the mild-mannered one), although I haven’t heard that song in 25 years, easy, that would be Cathedral by Graham Nash/CSN, no?

  46. ydnews said on June 19, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    I’ll never forget the time I saw Sam Zell at a San Francisco institutional real estate confab and discovered he had like one tooth on his top gumline. I always wondered why — not like he didn’t have the money to get his teeth fixed. But if you ‘ve seen him in action, you know Zell likes to be outrageous, and there’s no better way to outrage elitists than to be a multi-billionaire flashing a one-toothed grin! Now THAT’s elitist!

  47. joodyb said on June 19, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    ‘subsidized’ by classifieds? wow.

  48. Maria Padhila said on June 19, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    CAN I HAZ CAPSLOKK? (Thanks to you and your commenters for the good reads…)

  49. jr said on June 30, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    I have been reading those Abrams memos assuming they were jokes… but I realize now, to my horror, that it’s all true. I’m shocked. Could someone actually rise to a position of power without knowing that Broadway shows took place in New York, and that reporters writing about war actually went to wars to witness it first-hand? I’m horrified.